LONDON -- Out of curiosity and to see which mobile operators might show up, I attended the global launch of Huawei's new smartphone, the P8, at a beautiful location on the banks of the river Thames Wednesday.
If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be "razzmatazz." Hundreds of customers, partners, media and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. staff attended from all over Europe and beyond (I would estimate 800 or so) to witness a polished multimedia presentation lasting about 80 minutes. (See Huawei P8 Launch in Pics: It's Showtime!.)
It soon became apparent that the role of the Huawei staff was to lead the "spontaneous" response each time a new feature was announced by Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu. "The P8 has the world's first 13-megapixel camera with 4-color RGBW imaging!" Cue audible gasps, whoops and frantic applause. And when Yu announced that there was a P8 Max version (with a massive 6.8-inch screen compared with the 5.2-inch screen of the regular P8) I'm sure someone faked a faint.
It was slightly comical and, as it turns out, unnecessary. It was clear that the device specialists were lapping up the details and based on the sea of smartphones (hard to say of what make in the dark) being raised to take pictures of the presentation and the enthusiasm shown during the post-launch opportunity for some hands-on testing of the features, the audience was impressed.
It was also very clear that this is Huawei's attempt to match Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) -- Yu often compared the P8 to the iPhone 6, particularly when it came to talking up the Huawei device's camera, which has been designed to capture high-quality images in low light situations. All the details can be found in Huawei's official press release.
Here are a few observations of my own.
When it comes to smartphones my knowledge is limited, so I always look to the industry specialist who, I believe, has the most informed take on such matters, Ben Wood, head of research at CCS Insight . Wood very kindly shares his views in real time on Twitter: Check out his feed right here. His overall impression is that the device has the design and functionality that would appeal to users and it has some neat tricks in terms of its design around dual-SIM slots and components. However, Huawei has a "mountain to climb" to position itself as a "premium brand" that can match the likes of Apple and Samsung and that could limit its market share growth.
That may be true but it's also worth noting that Huawei, thanks to its domestic market and sheer persistence, has built a mobile device business that generated revenues of $12.2 billion in 2014. (See Huawei Reports Consumer Business Group Financials and Huawei Profits Soar on 4G, Smartphone Sales.)
According to IDC, Huawei is now the fourth-largest smartphone vendor globally, commanding 6.3% of the market (by unit shipments) in the fourth quarter of 2014, despite being only the number-three player in China. (See Xiaomi Leads China Smartphone Market, Says IDC and Smartphone Vendor Market Share, Q4 2014.)
We'll have to wait to see what impact the P8 has on Huawei's Consumer business. The vendor didn't announce any mobile operator partners but said the device is now available in 30 countries, including China, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK and will then become available globally.
So while I'll have to wait for another day to see what mobile operators think of Huawei's efforts to match Apple, the launch was worth attending just for the experience.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading